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Starting a Food Truck Business: 4 Legal Details That Matter

AllBusiness.com logo AllBusiness.com 3/17/2017 Deborah Sweeney

You’ve bought the truck, perfected the recipes, sourced the ingredients, incorporated the business, and had an inspection—it’s time to open up shop with your food truck.

Like most restaurants, this is all about location, location, location. Unlike brick and mortar eateries, food trucks are mobile—but this mobility doesn’t mean that you park anywhere and just get started either.

From obtaining permits to figuring out how trash works, here are four legal details to keep in mind when picking a location for your food truck.

1. Parking locations and restrictions

Most cities and counties have zoning regulations that designate food trucks to a specific area. So, even if you think you’ve found the perfect spot, like a park or college campus, you might not have permission to park there. Begin researching prime location options for your truck and check in with the county clerk for a full list of places where you can and cannot park. This will vary depending on the city you’re in and whether you’re operating on public or private property.

Once you know which city you’re heading to, you’ll also have to ask and answer the following questions:

How long will I be parked?

You may need to pay a meter or obey two-hour street parking sign rules.

Am I parked close enough to the curb?

food trucks © artisticco - Fotolia.com food trucks

This may not sound like it matters, but many cities, like Los Angeles, have food truck rules that food must be dispensed from the sidewalk side of the street and not street side.

Are there any proximity bans?

If your food truck has a menu that is very similar to other nearby restaurants, it’s possible that the area might have a proximity ban for how close a food truck can park by companies selling competing items.

Where can I park overnight?

For most food trucks, this means parking in a commissary each night.

Are there any lesser-known parking restrictions I should be aware of?

From stop-and-wait restrictions to double-parking, explore all the regulations of the locations where you’re interested in parking.

Pro tip: If you’re not sure where to get started to find out local rules, check in with Mobile Cuisine’s list of food truck laws by city.

2. Health codes surrounding trash and bathrooms

Owners of food trucks can’t just toss their trash into someone else’s dumpster, or run into another restaurant’s bathroom anytime they feel like it. Food truck operators need to follow health code and safety procedures covering everything from food prep and storage to water access.

Here, we’ll touch on two examples of health code rules for disposing waste and determining restrooms. In Los Angeles, the trash rules for food trucks state that there must be a clearly marked litter receptacle outside of the truck for customers to toss trash into. The can and its bags must be removed when the truck is leaving the area too, along with any visible trash that might have surrounded the can. For restrooms, Cal Code 114315 states that trucks must be within 200 feet of an approved and available toilet and hand-washing facility for any food facility that stops to do business for more than one hour.

3. Permits and licenses

What licenses does your food truck need to operate and how do you get permits in your city (or state or county)? While you’ll need to check in with your local Chamber of Commerce or the SBA to determine exactly what you need, a sample of documents you may be expected to obtain include a business license, health permit, mobile food facility permit, food handler permit, and food safety certification. These may vary depending on the city or county you conduct business in, and some counties may even require separate permits as well.

4. Business insurance

Finally, your food truck will require business insurance. This should cover not just the truck, but also workers’ compensation for your staff in the event of an accidental injury, business property, and general liability insurance.

Once you have all of the details accounted for, park and get cookin’—your food truck is officially open for business!

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